For every tonne of concrete produced, one tonne of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Counterbalancing this profound statistic is another one…that concrete’s high thermal mass significantly lowers energy requirements for heating and cooling. It’s easy to justify one with the other and many reference materials tout the environmental, social and economic benefits for their capacity to outweigh the hindrances, so do they? And what do each of these impacts actually mean?
Concrete house in Portugal by Aires Mateus. Photography by Joao Guimaraes.
With its capacity to absorb the warmth of the sun and dispel the assault of cold, wet and windy weather, concrete preserves the thermal comfort inside to such an extent that, in tandem with good design, can sometimes completely eradicate the need for emissions producing heating and cooling technology.
University of Science and Technology, Algiers by Oscar Niemeyer. Photograph by Jason Oddy.
Concrete is what holds together the built world. Quite literally, it is the roofs over our heads, the roads that snake through our world, the container of our drinking water, the substance of our bridges. Since the likes of Le Corbusier, Oscar Neimeyer and Tadao Ando demonstrated its aesthetic potential, the social benefits of our concrete havens have become not only protective but also beautiful.
17 Union Street by NEOMETRO™ Photography by Derek Swalwell. Styling by In Good Company
You’d be hard pressed to find a more economical materials. For this reason, concrete harnesses the capacity to rebuild are war and environmental devastation, and to provide affordable housing solutions the world over.
He Art Museum, China by Tadao Ando.
Mitigating Impact on Climate Change
If concrete were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US. With the current rate of use, the built environment will soon quite literally outweigh the natural. Mitigating these cold hard facts is concretes agility to fit seamlessly into a circular economy. It sis the undisputed king of strength, outlasting all others in devastating weather and the ebbs and flows of time. Knowing this, its potential for re-use is staggering and something that can drastically turn the corner of carbon emissions given they are created during the production phase.
With conscious planning and careful monitoring, concrete is easily the produced on or near the building site. Enforcing this where possible means cutting down on transport emissions.
By simply being as resilient as it is, concrete buildings are profoundly sustainable. Relics made from an early form of aggregate mixed with rudimentary cement past still remain from Mayan times. In revisiting the need to demolish and rebuild, concrete’s longevity is astounding. You need only think of the Pantheon or the Colosseum in Rome.